SELF-HARM – why is it so hard to stop?

Self-harm is difficult to talk about.  People who self harm have very little control over it.  Emotional pain overwhelms them and the frustration and anger they feel, becomes too much. The only way to relieve themselves of the intensity of their feelings is to self harm.  

People self-harm in various ways.  They can hit themselves hard in the head multiple times, punch their bodies, scratch their bodies, pull their hair out, cut themselves deeply to name a few.  People also self harm by over eating, turning to alcohol or drugs or other such destructive behaviours to relieve their emotional distress. People who self harm often feel a deep sense of shame for having harmed themselves. Yet they have little control over it.

For many years, psychologists and psychiatrists have tried to help people stop self-harming using popular methods, particularly CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy).  Unfortunately these don’t seem to have much success rate, especially in Adolescent’s who self harm. CBT tends to concentrate more on how to control your thought processes and ways to behave in your day to day life.  Whilst other techniques offer different exercises for the person to do to prevent self-harm. These techniques are useful in some circumstances, but in self-harm they have limited use.


Painful emotions and their entrapment

The core emotion triggering self-harm can become extremely intense once activated. This usually overwhelms the individual to the point that self-harm becomes the only source of immediate relief. There is little control over thought in that moment. There is no control of behaviour. The emotion is the overriding factor. It is this activated emotion and its intensity that will dictate how the individual behaves.

The body has an involuntary response to pain and causes a contraction around the painful emotion. In doing this, it traps the emotion in the body. The same contraction occurs when the body feels physical pain. The body doesn’t differentiate between physical and emotional pain. Pain is pain to the body. It is this involuntary contraction around the painful emotion that prevents the body from experiencing the full intensity of the emotion causing it to become trapped. In SHEN ® Therapy we call this contraction the ACPR – Auto-contractile pain response.

The core emotion causing the self-harm will be repeatedly triggered until it is properly released. This cannot be achieved solely by changing one’s thoughts or attempting to change one’s behaviour.  This is why many methods currently used do not provide long term relief.

In order to feel more in control of their emotions, people need to release the trapped emotions within their bodies. These emotions become triggered repeatedly to rule or ruin lives while they stay trapped. Once they are released deep healing occurs and behaviour changes. This is where a person’s natural state of feeling balanced and empowered becomes the norm for them.  

Once deeply held emotions have been released, it is wise to learn simple, reliable and effective methods to manage emotions as they are experienced so they no longer get trapped or control behaviour in a disadvantageous way.   There are various modalities out there such as yoga, breath work and mindfulness, various somatic therapies, that are extremely useful and slowly becoming more mainstream. 

Important notice

*If you are suffering from self-harm and are/have been working with a clinical doctor to help you, it is highly advisable to seek their assistance when embarking on any journey involving somatic or alternative therapies. These therapies can work surprisingly deeply and it’s imperative you have all the help and support you need along your journey. Collaboration between you, your Doctor and your alternative health practitioner is vitally important.*

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